Lots to talk about. Let's go!
Japan was still a copycat act at this point. And although this album bares little resemblance to the greasy funk rock of their debut (released eight months previous to this), they are still pretty far from being anything except followers. Just have a look at the cover and it's obvious they're still trying to be glam punkers. Where Adolescent Sex filled up its creative shortcomings with funk indulgences, Obscure Alternatives just flails in all directions. Slimey faux reggae, stock new wave and even a synth-obsessed glance at where they were headed. It's too much on one plate, but what's there is at least worth checking out if you're a fan. I skipped this one because I didn't think it was essential after checking out some previews years ago. But, I can honestly say now, it's a good album just to consider if you're a fan of the band. It's a transitional album, so it's a mixed mess, but it does have its moments. This remastered and expanded edition of the album from 2006 features four live tracks, one of which is a stunning early through of 'In Vogue' that finds Japan as the band they would soon come to be appearing fully formed for the first time. A good album that bridges the gap between the early, more rockin' outfit and the later, sophisticated and reserved incarnation of the band.
Japan — Quiet Life (1979)
Simply put: one of the most impressive musical evolutions ever. In just under two years, they literally went from being borderline embarrassing in their copycat ways to being innovators. The title track asserts this album's place in history immediately. It's so ahead of its time that people still lump it in with the hits of the 80's (see what I did there?). Otherwise, it's all here. Chilly post-punk? Check. Spacey ghost funk? You know it. A new wave era remake of a classic? Present. I mean, sheesh, this album is good. And they only got better from here! This, again, is the remastered and expanded edition from 2006. The bonus tracks are mostly disappointing as three-quarters of them are simply single mixes of album tracks (two of those being back to back versions of 'All Tomorrow's Parties' —grrrrrr!). However, the other track is the very Tin Drum-esque b-side, 'A Foreign Place' so all is forgiven. I seriously can't recommend this album enough. As a huge David Sylvian fan in general and especially a fan of what came immediately after this album, I really have no excuse for not having this one around previously.
The Feelies — Time for a Witness (1991)
I'm gonna write a song called 'Ode to the Feelies' and it's gonna go like this: "Ooohhh, the Feelies / They kick ass! / Ooohhh, the Feelies / Do please ask / About the Feelies / Because now your task / Is to get the Feelies / In your memory, fast!" I love them that much. This album has eluded me for even longer than Crazy Rhythms did. So, I said to myself, "Self, I've had enough of not having the entire Feelies discography!" And she responded, "Do whatever, man. Just make yourself happy." So, I paid a little more than I probably should have, but you know what? It's not like there's tons of bands that have released five albums, but have never made a bad song. But the Feelies can lay claim to this honor. Time for a Witness, what most must have taken for being the band's last album ever (until this happened), is simultaneously the band's poppiest and their most rockin' affair. Side two is preferable for me, as it's quite reminiscent of the Good Earth. But the whole thing is good. Jangly, weirdly poppy, classic awkwardness and everything. Check out the jammy 'Find a Way' and then take a step back and realize that it was the Feelies that just did that (and then get blown away). 'Invitation' is pure jangle pop bliss, while their cover of 'Real Cool Time' proves that they could actually rock out the whole time. The fuckin' Feelies, man. Kings.
George Harrison — Dark Horse (1974)
I guarantee, if nobody knew about George's throat issues at the time, nobody would say anything about the vocals on this album. It's polished and classy, that's for sure. And that sums up George's solo career, actually. There's no absence of sheen on any of these albums, but the songs are all really genuine. It's unfortunate that this album has now been classified as the album George did when his voice was suffering because it actually has gems. 'So Sad', in fact, should probably be considered amongst his best songs (Beatles or otherwise). The bitter revision of 'Bye Bye Love' gets by solely on vibe (seriously, look up the history of that thing) while side two features the soft rock hidden gem 'Far East Man' (another one of George's best, actually). Very nice music. No shortage of tunes.
George Harrison — Extra Texture (1975)
This one starts off with 'You', which sounds almost like an All Things Must Pass outtake. And I should say that this is probably my favorite George album, outside of that album. This one is very slowly paced, but there remains an acoustic strummy base to all the songs and it strikes me as the one album that George made in the 70's where he was actually happy with the results. 'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' is a brilliant sequel, while 'World of Stone' is the sort of furrowed brow, deep thinking ballad that I expected from him the whole time. Really strong stuff, for overproduced soft rock. And, even without that arguably derogatory tag, it's still pretty good.
George Harrison — 33 and 1/3 (1976)
George ventures even further into studioland on this one. Like I said earlier, the songs are still good, but whether or not you can notice that depends on how much patience you have for late 70's studio sheen. For example, if you can understand that if the keyboards in 'Dear One' were scaled back a bit, it would damn near be a masterpiece, then you will get a lot out of this album. 'Learning How to Love You' is another good one in this vein. Overall, the album sounds pretty good while it's playing, but doesn't leave much of an impression afterwords.
George Harrison — George Harrison (1979)
And it's more of the same here, but the songs are just a little more catchy, honestly. First track 'Love Comes to Everyone' is so earnest, I have a hard time not liking it (please excuse the synthesizer solos, however). 'Here Comes the Moon' (another sequel) is just lovely, if you ask me, while 'Dark Sweet Lady' is so genuine and good, my inner soft rock nerd is giddy whenever I play it (and it has a harp!). And, furthermore, the segue into 'Your Love is Forever' (officially one of George's best, actually) is just magical. Darn good stuff, if you're already into in the first place. And the last song being 'If You Believe' is just appropriate beyond comprehension, isn't it?
George Harrison — Somewhere in England (1981)
And one last overproduced noble failure from George. It has 'All Those Years Ago' which was a hit and which I knew rather well when I was a kid (the things one forgets!). Overall, there seems even less of what made his past albums somewhat charming present here. 'Writing's on the Wall' reminds me of the overproduced, earnest George I love, but not much else here is worth more than one listen for anyone except diehards.
The Trypes — Music for Neighbors (1983/1984)
I can't even begin to describe the rush I get from listening to this music. Feelies affiliation or no, I am so into this band. Granted, nobody would even have paid attention to them without Glenn Mercer or Bill Million's involvement, but it blew my mind to learn that this band, as a working unit, actually predated the Feelies. The only recorded documents of the band under this name just happened to occur when members of the Feelies were in the group. As a document of a group of friends getting together and screwing around, it's pretty entertaining. As a piece of Americana and documenting one of the more fascinating evolutions in musical growth (in contemporary terms), it's priceless. Acute Records is to be commended for their efforts. Although this album appears as an anonymous slate brown spine in the above scan, everything else is handled with excellent care in this gorgeous package. This compilation documents the band's only official release at the time with a bunch of extras. 'From the (Morning Glories)' is just unbelievably good. The original version of 'The Undertow' (which the Feelies would redo a couple years later) is here among the initial output, while 'A Plan, Revised' comes along and just blows everything in its path away, very quietly. Seriously, that thing is just godlike. They're like a darker, more serious version of Shrimp Boat. Jangly, 60's-obsessed (two Beatles covers!) and not afraid of noise or just rocking out, it's a document of a band that should have been more than just a sub-footnote. Yeah, it's about time some of these previously only regionally heard American bands come forward and get their due acclaim. Just absolutely and thoroughly brilliant. Get this album immediately. Help yourself to some free downloads in the meantime.